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Earnest in 2021

Much of my time during my first few months as CEO has been focused on building out our team and company which means I spend a lot of time talking to candidates. One common theme among many of the questions I receive is that it’s not immediately clear what Earnest does now. If you google us you might read about how we’re “democratizing access to high quality financial services” or “building the bank of the future”. You will probably come across a lot of info about how we “use software and algorithms to evaluate a person’s full education, employment, and financial profile, looking beyond a traditional credit score (also known as a FICO score) in order to obtain a complete financial profile of each applicant.” And while it is true we do try to use a complete financial profile, our mission and vision have changed significantly since I first joined the company at the beginning of 2015. We’ve launched various products, retired some of them, and our mission has evolved. It’s an exciting time at Earnest and I want to share more about our focus areas and what it’s like working here. And why you should come join us on this journey to do really great things to help others.  

What we’re doing

Today we’re on a mission to make higher education accessible and affordable to everyone. As I mentioned already, that wasn’t always our mission, but based on the combination of where we’ve had the highest impact in our client’s lives as well as the biggest problems facing our client’s today this is where we are focused going forward. 

Our core product today, and the first one in which we achieved product market fit, is Student Loan Refinancing. Refinancing helps people in one of two ways; they can pay off their student loans faster, or they can lower their monthly payments, and many times we can help people do both as a result of the lower interest rate we offer them. As we started to have success in the refinance market we started digging in more to the question of how we can best help our users get out of student loan debt and we realized that by the time we interacted with them in the Refi product, there was only so much we could do. Our clients or prospective clients already had all of this debt and the best we could do is try to help them pay it off a bit sooner. But how could we stop them from ending up with all that debt in the first place?

One of the things we came across was that, not surprisingly, students didn’t know what they were signing up for when they took out this debt in the first place and we asked ourselves, how could we help people make better borrowing decisions when going to school?

To help address this problem we launched a private student loan which is focused on bringing transparency to the lending process along with low rates and guidance on repayment options. Our borrowers understand how making payments (even $25/mo has a huge impact over time) while in school can really lower the total amount of debt they have when they graduate.

As we got further and further into the world of student loan debt we realized there were all these decisions that students made that contributed to their student loan debt. These decisions include:

  • Where to go to school
  • How many scholarships to apply for
  • What major to choose
  • What to do during the summer
  • How to fund your education
  • What job you take after school

The problem of student debt is existential. Students are being asked to make large financial decisions while still in high school: we need to offer products and services that can simplify this process. That is what we’re focused on doing. We currently offer

  • The Earnest Scholarship – To help individuals pay for school
  • Private Student Loans – Where we focus on helping individuals make good loan choices when going to school
  • Student Loan Refinancing – Which helps students get better interest rates upon graduation
  • In-house servicing – Helping students pay down their loans faster by offering options like bi-weekly payments and tips on other ways to save
  • The Earnest Credit Card – Build credit the right way while putting your cashback toward student loan payments

And we’re just getting started.

We believe in a world where paying for your education takes less time than earning your degree. Ultimately we want to be the only financial-product that students want to use because our clients take out less debt and pay it off more quickly than with anyone else. In order to do that we will continue to launch products and services which help our clients make better financial decisions. 

What it’s like working here:

I’ve now been at Earnest twice for a total of almost 6 years. I joined when the company was about 20 people and have seen multiple evolutions of the company. A lot has changed over the course of 6+ years (I don’t work 8am to 2am anymore 🙂) but many things have stayed the same. Ray Dalio has a work principle which states that you should “cultivate meaningful work and meaningful relationships” and when I think about things that have stayed the same it’s really those two things.

Meaningful work

To me, meaningful work can be further broken down into meaningful on a macro level – “Is our company making a difference in the world?” and meaningful on a micro level – “Am I learning and making an impact at my company?” 

Macro level impact – As mentioned above, we’re working on a real problem that makes a huge difference in the lives of our clients and their families. Every day we hear from clients about the positive impact our product has. We know there is so much more to do and we know we can do so much more.

Micro level impact – We work hard to build a culture where individuals feel empowered to own and make decisions and move quickly to have an impact. We believe that there is room for improvement in everything that we do and we know that most decisions are reversible. We also believe that it’s important to have shared context and understanding, so my philosophy is to share as much information and context as possible with the entire company.

Meaningful relationships

Since day one the people at Earnest have been the main reason I get up every morning energized and excited to go to work. We’re smart & driven but low ego and highly collaborative. We also don’t take ourselves too seriously. One of our core values is “Do Great Things Together” and it really does feel true. Earnest is an extremely collaborative place where everyone wants to help their colleagues and our clients and where we know the best outcomes are the product of collaboration. And we like to have fun. 

The past 18 months have tested our organization (like many others), but our decision to switch Earnest to a remote-first company is an exciting opportunity. In the midst of COVID, our company kept building features, and our customers were signing with Earnest, and our teams were happy. We decided to go all in, and tap into a global talent pool to make Earnest even better. 

This move requires extensive work in culture-building, team discipline, and communications, and this is one of my top priorities for the company. But we also know that great relationships are not developed over zoom so we will always make time for safe in-person meetups. We know that we’ll have deeper and more meaningful relationships if we can spend some time in person.

Come join us

We’ve got big ambitions and we need help! If meaningful work and meaningful relationships resonate with you then check out our open roles.

Disclaimer: This blog post provides personal finance educational information, and it is not intended to provide legal, financial, or tax advice.